The Nenets tribespeople of Russia’s frozen Yamal peninsula have survived the age of the Tsars, the Bolshevik revolution and the chaotic 1990s, but now confront their biggest challenge — under their fur-bundled feet is enough gas to heat the world for five years. Numbering around 42,000, the Nenets are entirely dependent on reindeer, which appear on the Yamal region’s crest, and are animists. Their strict code of superstitions and gender divisions has been virtually untouched for at least a millennium. Nenets migrate north to south over 150 km every year, spending only a few days in one place, living off reindeer and fish and lugging their “chums”, or tents, kerosene lamps and wood-fired stoves on reindeer-pulled sleighs.
Experts and the Nenets say industry will damage and pollute the tundra, whose flat marshy terrain switches from marigold russets in summer to thick winter snow and is peppered with disc-like thermokarst lakes and crystal blue waterways.

Story by Amie Ferris-Rotman/REUTERS

This picture story has been awarded with Honorable Mention by The Best of Photojournalism 2010 of the NPPA in the Environmental Picture Story category.